Frequently Asked Questions - Flu

Seasonal flu is caused by influenza (flu) viruses, which infect the respiratory tract (i.e. nose, throat, lungs). Unlike many other viral respiratory infections, such as the common cold, the flu can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications in many people. Some people, such as older people, young children, pregnant women, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications.

Influenza usually leaves its victims unable to function for several days and is responsible for an average of 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths in the United States due to flu complications each year.* Getting an annual flu shot is your best protection for you and those around you!

EVERYONE 6 MONTHS OF AGE & OLDER SHOULD GET VACCINATED AGAINST FLU EVERY YEAR. The Center for Disease Control recommends that you receive a flu shot if you meet one or more of the following criteria:

  1. Anyone who wants to reduce the risk of contracting the flu
  2. People at high risk of having serious complications from influenza, including:
    • - Children aged 6 months – 18 years old
    • - Pregnant women
    • - People 50 years of age and older
    • - People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
    • - People who live in nursing homes and other long term care facilities
    • - People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu

Yes, influenza viruses continually change every year. A new vaccine is used annually to fight the most current influenza virus. In addition, the antibody a person develops from the vaccine declines over time. Everyone needs a flu shot EACH flu season. So, for optimal protection against influenza, annual vaccination is recommended regardless of past vaccination status or flu infection.

Yearly flu vaccination should begin in September or as soon as vaccine is available and continue throughout the influenza season, into December, January, and beyond. This is because the timing and duration of influenza seasons vary. While influenza outbreaks can happen as early as October, most of the time influenza activity peaks in January or later.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “the vaccine’s effectiveness is usually strongest during the first 6 months after receiving the flu shot. After that, the strength of protection it provides begins to diminish.”

The flu vaccine has been determined to be effective in preventing influenza in about 70% - 90% of healthy people under the age of 65 and is your best method of protection. Among elderly persons not living in chronic-care facilities and people with long-term medical conditions, the flu shot is 30%-70% effective in preventing hospitalization for pneumonia and influenza. Among elderly nursing home residents, the flu shot is most effective in preventing severe illness, secondary complications, and deaths related to the flu. In this population, the shot can be 50%-60% effective in preventing hospitalization or pneumonia and 80% effective in preventing death from the flu.

No, the vaccine in the flu shot is a killed or dead virus and cannot give you the flu. Like other vaccines, flu vaccine is not 100% effective and does not take effect until two weeks after it is received. During this time, you will be just as susceptible to contract the flu as individuals who have not received the vaccination. Still, the best option to prevent flu is to get a yearly flu shot.

For most people, vaccination causes no side effects. Less than 1/3 of those who receive a flu shot will experience some soreness at the vaccination site, and only 5 to 10 percent will suffer mild side effects such as low-grade fevers and headaches. Anyone who is allergic to eggs should avoid being vaccinated, since the virus used is grown in hens' eggs.

The flu symptoms come on very quickly (3-6 hours) vs. cold symptoms appear gradually. With the flu you typically see fever, aches (often severe), chills, tiredness (moderate to severe), dry unproductive cough, chest discomfort (often severe) and headache. With a cold, a fever is rare, you typically have aches (slight), mild tiredness, a hacking productive cough, sneezing, stuffy nose, sore throat, chest discomfort (mild to moderate).

The main way that influenza viruses are thought to spread is from person to person in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes. People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.

First and foremost, the best way to prevent the flu is to get your flu shot every year. Wash their hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick should not be shared without washing thoroughly first.

Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than 7 days. Symptoms start 1 to 4 days after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Some persons can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those persons may still spread the virus to others.

Many people use the term “stomach flu” to describe illnesses with nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. These symptoms can be caused by many different viruses, bacteria or even parasites. While vomiting, diarrhea, and being nauseous or “sick to your stomach” can sometimes be related to the flu — more commonly in children than adults — these problems are rarely the main symptoms of influenza. The flu is a respiratory disease and not a stomach or intestinal disease.